The Importance of Blood transfusions in Veterinary Medicine

Anemia is a common, and sometimes life-threatening, problem in veterinary medicine. There are varying degrees of anemia and the severity of the anemia indicates a potential need for a blood transfusion. Aside from anemia, there are other disease processes that require transfusions of different types of blood products. Currently, there are very few veterinary blood banks available for hospitals to purchase whole blood and/or blood products. All blood banks also have their own blood donor program and own specific pool of animals to obtain healthy blood from, but our hospital, Dogs and Cats Veterinary Referral, has developed it’s own blood donor program to include both dogs and cats. Our blood donor program has been established by following standards and recommendations set by the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM) consensus statement. Having an animal that is a blood donor is a huge commitment as blood donation is a very involved procedure, as you will learn here.

When an animal is assessed as needing a blood transfusion, the first step is to evaluate what type of blood product is indicated. One of the significant benefits of a blood bank is that they are able to produce multiple variations of products for diseases besides anemia. In our hospital, we are able to keep some different products in our inventory, such as fresh frozen plasma, cryoprecipitate and immunoglobulins. These products are portions of whole blood but require very specific technical skills and instruments to create. In fact, it is not plausible for our hospital to obtain these instruments or use our resources to obtain the technical skills; we are fortunate to have a blood bank locally to rely on for these specialty products.

When an animal presents with the primary problem of anemia, it is unlikely that a specialty product is warranted. After initial assessment, the veterinarian decides if and what type of a blood transfusion is needed. Often times, whole blood is a reasonable choice as the product to infuse, which is when we may call on an animal blood donor.

Our blood donors make up a pool of young, healthy animals that have been screened by our hospital for any underlying diseases identifiable on blood work as well as blood borne infections. Employees of our hospital and/or regular pet owners own the dogs and cats involved in the program. We require the animals to be within a distance of one hour travel time and are on call at all times for urgent transfusions. The blood donors typically require heavy sedation for the donation procedure and stay in the hospital for about an hour after donation. The likelihood of complications exists, but is extremely low.

The blood that is pulled from the donor is immediately prepared to infuse into the ill recipient. The recipient will typically show clinical improvement immediately after or during the transfusion, enforcing the fact that the transfusion was needed and in an urgent fashion. Animals that receive transfusion are typically hospitalized for multiple days in our ICU to treat their underlying disease.

As noted here, blood transfusions are a complicated process requiring many special skills as well as dedicated owners and animals. The benefit of blood transfusions is immeasurably large and a very common treatment in our referral hospital. We value our small pool of local blood donors as well as all of the dogs and cats that donate for the blood banks in the area and believe that they are some of the unsung heroes in veterinary medicine. You may visit our website at to obtain more information regarding entering your own pet into our program.

by Lauren M. DiVanna, DVM, Dogs and Cats Veterinary Referral

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